By Jake Winfrey
The Cullman Times
Patrick Drake and the junior golfers at TP Country Club have officially taken the term “stick it close” to a whole new level.
To combat the ongoing stuggle of getting more kids involved in the game, Drake, the director of golf and club professional at TP, decided to introduce a fun, innovative way for first-time and junior players to get into the swing of things.
It’s simply called SNAG Golf.
“We came across this when we were down in Orlando for a PGA show,” Drake said of the program, which stands for Starting New At Golf. “It’s actually the only one of these that’s endorsed by Jack Nicklaus. It’s definitely a good way for kids to learn about golf.”
The basics of the program are, well, basic.
Each golfer uses a learning-friendly plastic club called a launcher to hit objects similar to tennis balls — albeit, slightly smaller — at designated targets down range. The goal for each player is to “stick” the balls to the base of each Flagsticky, which is covered in a Velcro-like material. They attempt to do this by hitting from aptly named launch pads.
“We wanted to find something like this for our kids here,” Drake said. “All the people we talked to about SNAG had nothing but good things to say about it. They loved it.”
The program’s cost tallied close to $1,000, although you won’t hear Drake bellyache about it, as he’s already seen how its merits will affect kids down the road.
One of those kids happens to be Conor Berry, a 10-year-old who attends Sacred Heart Elementary School in Cullman.
Berry said he was a big fan of how easy it was to pick up the basics of SNAG.
“It’s really fun because it’s a good way to learn how to play,” he said. “You don’t have to hit it too hard, and the marks on the club teach you how to hold it. Pretty much everyone down here can hit a target, no matter how little they are. Adults can definitely learn from it, too.”
Chas NeSmith, 10, has been golfing for five years and said the program has been really fun for him as well, despite thinking otherwise at the beginning.
“I thought it was going to be kind of hard,” he said. “But it’s fun, and it’s very anticipating seeing how you’re going to hit it.”
With around 15 total juniors at TP for the country club’s first weeklong clinic of the summer, Drake is pleased with those who are excited about learning a lifelong game. However, he knows it’s nowhere near where he wants it to be.
Drake said he plans to do the SNAG program every day for the rest of the week and will do so again the last week of July. He’ll also give it a go during the ladies’ golf classes as well.
Beyond that, Drake said he wants to get SNAG in the school system, specifically physical education classes, where he hopes the more kids see it, the more likely they’ll become to take up the sport.
“We’ve got to get more kids playing this game,” Drake said. “We try to make it as fun as possible for them so that they’ll love the game. I think for the younger kinds, it’s a more exciting and entertaining way for them be around golf.
“I believe it’s a way for us to build a great junior program, not just at TP, but all around Cullman County.”
% The Times’ sports editor Rob Ketcham contributed to this report.